#MyRe-entryStory: Shannon Olona

re-entry after being abroad reverse culture shock life after abroad

Shannon Olona is a writer, teacher, and military spouse. She runs a travel blog with her husband, Gerred. When she’s not charting her adventures, she can be found running along the coast, exploring weekend Farmer’s markets, and attempting her best warrior’s pose.

Hi Shannon! So, where were you abroad?

I studied abroad for a semester at University College of Cork, Ireland in 2012. During this time, I learned so much about myself by pursuing my own interests. The first week of term, I made it a point to break away from the comfort of other American exchange students and really immerse myself in UCC student life.

I joined the Rovers (scouts) club in order to hike and travel around Ireland for free. This was the best decision I made during my time abroad because I met so many Irish students, learned about their culture, and truly felt a part of a community. By the end of my semester, I was co-captain of the Rovers, had traveled all around Ireland and Northern Ireland, and had the whole club send me off to Cork Airport on my last day.

That sounds like a great study abroad experience! When did the idea of re-entry get on your radar? Did you have any re-entry preparation, training or debriefing?

Before I left for my semester abroad, the idea of re-entry was already introduced by my Study Abroad Advisor, Dr. Kate McCleary in her pre-departure orientation. She touched on reverse culture shock with the famous graph and had a group of students answer questions about the studying abroad and re-entry.

What was your re-entry experience like?

When I returned to my home institution, Washington College, I felt disconnected from student life because I gave up all my jobs and positions in clubs before I left for Ireland. I knew that I needed to find that same sense of community that I did at University College of Cork back home at Washington College.

Instead of immediately jumping into a club, I made it a point to get involved as much as possible with the Global Education Office. I would stop by Dr. McCleary’s office and discuss my time abroad and what it was like being back whenever I could.

Soon, I was invited to accompany Dr. McCleary and two other students who studied abroad in France and Spain to a re-entry conference at Temple University. I was a little nervous since this was my first conference, but I wound up meeting so many other students who were in the same boat and I learned so much about living a global life.

After the conference, I did not have far to look to find my community at Washington College. I helped start Cultural Ambassadors, a club that brings international students and matriculating students together to learn about each other’s culture. The next year, I was hired as an International Student Orientation Guide, I volunteered to share my stories at the pre-departure orientation, and served as the International Student Services Intern at the Global Education Office.

re-entry after being abroad reverse culture shock life after abroad
Shannon in Ireland

What do you know *now* about re-entry that you wish you’d known earlier?

I wish I had known that you can still experience reverse culture shock after returning from countries that speak your native language and have similar cultures to your own. It’s really about how involved you were in the culture of the country and the types of experiences you had.

Do you have any for others who are about to go through re-entry?

Find a community online or on Meetup.com of people who have experience in travel. Discuss with them all about your time abroad and what it’s like being back home and see what you can learn from them.

And… just for fun: if re-entry were a food what would it be? Why?

If re-entry were a food it would be a popsicle because it goes through a process of change. The popsicle that sits in the freezer has a set mold, just as we might have a set view of the world. Once the popsicle is removed it experiences the heat of the outdoor world.

For us, this would be our minds opening up with each experience abroad. In the end, the popsicle is either eaten or the liquid can be remolded into a new shape. This translates to us either moving on from our travel without reflecting or taking what we’ve learned abroad with us in our mind.

Thanks for sharing your re-entry story, Shannon!